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Peter Eldridge: A Lot of Other Stuff

By Published: August 27, 2007
AAJ: It's so much easier with iTunes.

PE: Definitely. I'll go from the third movement of "Bloch's Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra" to a song by the Roches to an old Chet Baker tune. I know a lot of the jazz community gets really uncomfortable with that, but I like to think this is changing a little bit—it's not just about "My Funny Valentine" in 1956 anymore. That's so...done. Let's move on! When I read Down Beat, it seems like there's not that stranglehold of people who are just doing this—[snaps fingers like a Cool Cat]—all the time. So hopefully that will continue. And with Kate, whose music is so organic—she does standards in a new way, but she's so respectful of the lyric. That's pretty rare.

AAJ: There has to be a common denominator somewhere in the music you like, even if it comes from very different places.

PE: Well, the emotion, probably. Once again, I think I was seeking that. As a kid, it was my salvation to hear someone expressing themselves emotionally—on piano, Bill Evans. You just get that extra thing —soul? Music that elevates you and gives you hope. I've always been a real fan of music that's bittersweet, that has both sides. I think I write music like that. I'm drawn to songs that have both the plus and minus; I like the mix.

AAJ: It's not often that you write a purely happy song. For example, "Sunday Driver" [on Decorum] is cute, and it swings, but there's also a serious message in there: slow down!

PE: It's about why we're all going crazy, and maybe that guy who takes forever has got the right idea. The last line: "he just wants to make the day last/and me, I'm going nowhere fast." I think we all do that. When you're driving home, you've got to make it through that light. But what's the big deal about another minute and a half? That's a current phenomenon for us—we're always racing. I don't think it was like that ten years ago. It's just insane.

AAJ: There's so much stimulation coming in constantly from all angles, which is why—a little editorial comment here—why kids "need" Ritalin. Ritalin is actually speed: it calms them down because it enables them to keep up, to field all the crap that's zooming at them, and not feel so overwhelmed by it.

PE: Wow. I didn't realize that.

AAJ: Ritalin is pharmaceutically very close to cocaine, which is why kids can sell it on the street. And we don't even know the long-term effects of the stuff! OK, I'll get off that soapbox. Tell me more about what you're up to.

Peter Eldridge / New York Voices

PE: I've also started writing choral classical music now. I had church gigs when I first moved to New York with the Marble Collegiate choir—great choir.

AAJ: Wow. I used to work on their "Help Line" crisis line.

PE: Small world! I remember waiting for the point in the service when everybody says the Lord's Prayer together, and noticing that it was kind of robotic. I looked around wondering whether anyone was thinking about these words, or was it just from memory and rote and routine. I thought: what do these words mean? So I took each line from the Lord's Prayer and re-wrote it—paraphrased it—and then I set that as an a cappella piece. It appears on their first studio album; it's called "Prayer," and it just got published a month ago. I've done a few of those. [Drummer] Ben Wittman said, "Wouldn't it be cool to do a whole album of this kind of stuff?" Yeah, you'd better believe it.

AAJ: Sounds like you're pulled in many different directions at the same time.

PE: It's very confusing for me to prioritize: what am I doing?? I love writing bossa novas, I could do a whole album of Brazilian music. I love doing this choral stuff; it's really wonderful, overwhelming. I wish someone would just go, "Do that! There you go. That's the stuff!" But that ain't happening. And speaking of unbinnable...I think that's been the problem.

AAJ: It's a great gift, and a great handicap. If you could only do one thing well, you wouldn't have all this anxiety about choice.

PE: When my students say, "I'm not sure if I wanna do this, or do that," I say, "I don't want to get too heavy, deep and real right now, but if you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to spend the rest of the day doing?"

AAJ: I always felt that people needed to hear the stuff you were writing. As a psychologist who hears a lot of mindless, angry churning in today's music, I want to hear the antidote: an intelligent, original, musical commentary on life and what it means. But without being preachy.

PE: Some people want preachy.

AAJ: Yes. And there's always a market for people who want the answers spelled out for them, people who wander around at EST weekends where they can't go to the bathroom for twelve hours.

PE: I almost did one, about ten years ago. I think I'm one of the few people who demanded my money back and actually got it. I've been there: life isn't working for me, and this is A Way to Answer All My Questions. Ridiculous. But my friend went, and said afterward, "You can hardly see the implants, they're right along the hairline." But hey, if it works? Whatever works.

Peter Eldridge / New York Voices

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